By Genevieve Ko, The New York Times
Twenty years ago, “Barefoot Contessa” introduced TV viewers to Ina Garten, framed by stacks of white plates on white open shelves in her kitchen in East Hampton, New York. As its title suggested, the show conveyed a down-to-earth ease that felt attainable (even if the Viking stove she sautéed on was not necessarily). Fans could dream about living in that shingle-style home, and then, if they followed her recipes, they could cook just like her.
Garten has continued to spread the gospel, on TV and in cookbooks (her 13th, “Go-To Dinners,” was published last month), that simple cooking can feel special. Part of that message is her reassurance that “store-bought is fine” — that home cooks should feel free to use premade components, like puff pastry or vanilla ice cream, that save time and perform as well or better than homemade.
So when we asked her to create a classic Thanksgiving feast that incorporated store-bought ingredients, she embraced the challenge — in large part because of the exhaustion she said many home cooks, including herself, have felt over the last few years and are still experiencing now.
“I think just for Thanksgiving, all bets are off,” she said. “Whatever you need to do to get Thanksgiving dinner on the table is OK.”
Creating simple dishes is anything but simple. Garten approached the task as if it were a scientific experiment, using the rigorous process she applies to all of the dishes she develops. After perfecting a dish herself, she watches as her recipe testers prepare them, and tastes their results. If they hesitate or falter at any step, Garten will edit the recipe to make sure no detail is missing or unclear. If the dish doesn’t match hers, she sleuths out why.
For these Thanksgiving dishes, she began by figuring out how to replicate her from-scratch versions using ready-made supermarket products. “My goal was that you didn’t know that store-bought thing was in there,” she said. “I want to make store-bought taste homemade.”
In recreating her Parmesan smashed potatoes from “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,” Garten tried every package of refrigerated and frozen prepared mashed potatoes she could find. She ended up simply reheating her favorite brand in a bowl over simmering water and stirring in sour cream, Parmesan, butter, salt and pepper. The technique, requiring only a bowl and saucepan, saved the time and energy of cooking potatoes, and cost less.
She had similar successes with other substitutions: reengineering her cranberry conserve by simmering canned whole-berry cranberry sauce with fresh apple and orange, and baking her mushroom bread pudding with cubed, preseasoned stuffing mix.
Some ideas didn’t pan out. Canned sweet potatoes in a soufflé didn’t yield the airy rise she wanted. She didn’t like the metallic taste of most jarred and canned gravies, so she included an easy gravy that uses “good chicken stock” — which can be purchased — as part of her recipe for roasted turkey.
For her pecan pie, Garten found that the frozen crust tasted even better than a handmade one. Because the bourbon-chocolate filling is so rich, it benefits from a crust that isn’t as buttery.
Despite that epiphany, and the fun she had with the assignment, Garten said there are limits to her reliance on prepared ingredients.
“You now have my entire repertoire of store-bought recipes,” she said — while noting, with a laugh, that all ingredients are technically store-bought. All she wants is to make Thanksgiving simple for home cooks, to give them permission to take whatever shortcuts they need.
Her own holiday plans? “I’m completely tired of cooking,” she said. “So we’re going out for Thanksgiving. I let myself off the hook this year.”
Cranberry juice cocktail tints this martini magenta and gives it a fruitiness that blends well with the orange notes of triple sec. Plumped dried cranberries at the bottom of the glass soak up the drink and reinforce the berry’s tang. The generous dose of vodka can be mixed with the juice and triple sec ahead of time, then shaken with ice just before pouring.
Yield: 2 drinks
Total time: 5 minutes, plus 15 minutes’ cooling
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 3/4 cup cranberry juice cocktail (I use Ocean Spray)
- 1/2 cup good vodka, such as gray Goose
- 1/4 cup triple sec liqueur
- 1 cup ice
1. Place the cranberries and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl, cover and microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside until completely cool, about 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine the cranberry juice cocktail, vodka, triple sec and ice in a large cocktail shaker, put the lid on and shake for a full 30 seconds. Place a tablespoon of the cranberries in each of 2 martini glasses and pour in the cocktail mixture. Serve ice cold.
Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
Refrigerated, packaged mashed potatoes can taste homemade when reheated and mixed with rich sour cream, butter and savory Parmesan. They save the time and hassle of peeling, cooking and mashing fresh potatoes, and the result even costs less.
Yield: 6 servings
Total time: 25 minutes
- 1 (32-ounce) package refrigerated Bob Evans mashed potatoes (or 4 cups prepared mashed potatoes; see Tip)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for serving
- Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Spoon the mashed potatoes into the bowl and heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are hot.
2. Stir in the sour cream, Parmesan, butter, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Continue to heat over simmering water until heated through. Taste for seasoning and serve hot with a pat of butter on top.
You also can start with cooked plain mashed potatoes: Boil 2 pounds peeled and quartered Yukon Gold potatoes in heavily salted water until tender. Drain well, then use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer to beat with 4 tablespoons melted butter and 1/2 cup warmed milk until smooth and creamy. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and refrigerate until ready to use.
Chunky Cranberry Sauce
“If you start with whole-berry sauce instead of the canned thing with the rings on it, you’ll get the texture of fresh cranberries,” Ina Garten said. She discovered that while simmering a can of whole-berry sauce with grated apple and orange zest and juice. With the help of crunchy walnuts and chewy raisins, this sauce tastes wholly homemade.
Yield: 6 servings (2 cups)
Total time: 20 minutes, plus 45 minutes’ chilling
- 1 (14-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce (I use Ocean Spray)
- 1/2 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
- 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, large-diced
- 1/4 cup raisins
1. Place the cranberry sauce in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the apple, orange zest and orange juice, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Off the heat, stir in the walnuts and raisins. Transfer to a bowl and chill. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Mushroom and Gruyère Bread Pudding
Cheesy and rich with sautéed onion and mushrooms, this bread pudding is Ms. Garten’s standard proxy for stuffing. Cubed stuffing mix saves the steps of slicing fresh bread into small chunks and then seasoning and toasting them. Soaked and baked in a simple creamy custard, the bagged blend produces a fluffy, creamy, savory casserole.
Yield: Serves 8 to 10
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion (1 large)
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
- 12 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps sliced 1/4-inch thick (see Tip)
- 1/4 cup cream sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 (12-ounce) bag herb-seasoned cubed stuffing mix (about 7 cups), such as Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned
- 3 cups grated Gruyère (8 to 10 ounces), divided
- 5 extra-large eggs
- 2 1/4 cups half-and-half
- 1 1/4 cups chicken stock (I used College Inn)
- Kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- by 13- by 2-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.
2. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat in a medium (10-inch) sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the garlic and mushrooms, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms start to brown. Add the sherry and rosemary and simmer for 2 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put the stuffing mix into a very large bowl. Stir in the mushroom mixture and cool for 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of the cheese.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, chicken stock, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Pour the custard mixture over the stuffing mixture and stir well. Set aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. Transfer the entire mixture to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cup of cheese.
5. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the custard is set in the middle. Serve hot.
Wipe the mushroom caps with a paper towel, but don’t wash them!
Make-Ahead Roast Turkey and Gravy With Onions and Sage
Even though this centerpiece doesn’t include prepared, store-bought gravy, it does make it far easier to serve turkey hot while keeping it moist. The roasted and carved bird can rest in the gravy for up to a few hours; it’s all reheated just before serving.
Yield: 8 servings
Total time: 5 hours, plus 2 to 3 days’ brining
For the Turkey:
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (12- to 14-pound) fresh turkey
- 1 large yellow onion, unpeeled and cut in eighths
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the Gravy:
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 large red onion, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups good chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
- 10 large fresh sage leaves
- 2 bay leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1. Brine the turkey: 2 or 3 days before you plan to roast the turkey, combine the thyme, lemon zest and 3 tablespoons salt. Wash the turkey inside and out, drain it well and pat it all over with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the salt mixture in the cavity of the turkey and rub the rest on the skin, including under the wings and legs. Place the turkey in a shallow dish just large enough to hold it and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 or 2 days. The day before you plan to roast the turkey, remove the plastic wrap and leave the turkey in the fridge. The skin will dry out and turn a little translucent.
2. Prepare the turkey: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the turkey in a large roasting pan, discarding any juices in the dish. Place the onion, lemon and thyme sprigs in the cavity. With kitchen string, tie the legs together and the wings close to the body. Brush the turkey with the butter and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
3. Roast the turkey for 2 to 2 1/4 hours, until the breast meat registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer (put the thermometer in sideways). Remove from the oven and place the turkey on a platter. Cut off the legs and thighs and put them back into the roasting pan, covering the breast and carcass tightly with aluminum foil. Place the roasting pan back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the dark meat registers 180 degrees. Remove the dark meat to the platter with the turkey, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
4. While the turkey is roasting, make the gravy base: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring often, for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onion becomes browned and starts to caramelize. Sprinkle on the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock, cognac, sage leaves, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt (or more or less, depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock) and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour, then strain, pressing the solids lightly and then discarding them. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. While the turkey rests, finish the gravy: Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat and add the wine. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring and scraping up all the bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Slowly whisk the gravy base into the pan. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the gravy is smooth and slightly thickened. Taste for seasoning.
6. Pour a 1/4-inch layer of the gravy into a large (12- by 16-inch), ovenproof serving platter (make sure it’s ovenproof!). Carve the turkey and arrange it artfully on top of the gravy. Cover the platter and set it aside for up to 2 hours, until ready to serve. Uncover the platter and place it in the 325 degree oven for 15 to 30 minutes, until the turkey is very hot. Serve hot with extra hot gravy on the side.
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie
If you’ve never had a Kentucky Derby pie, imagine something closer to a gooey, underbaked chocolate chip cookie than to the standard Thanksgiving pecan pie. The ultrarich filling actually tastes better with a store-bought frozen pie crust, which is lighter than a homemade one made with butter.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total time: 1 hour, plus thawing and cooling time
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 tablespoons good bourbon (such as Maker’s Mark)
- 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (such as Nestle’s)
- 1 cup whole pecans, large-diced
- 1 (9-inch) store-bought frozen pie crust (such as Wholly Wholesome); see Tip
- Good vanilla ice cream (such as Häagen-Dazs), for serving
1. Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs, vanilla and bourbon. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
3. Place the pie crust on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and press a floured fork into the crimped edges to make the pie look more homemade. Pour the filling into the pie crust, and smooth the top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes on the prepared rack until the filling is evenly golden brown on top and as firm in the middle as it is at the edges.
4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve in wedges with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Defrost frozen pie crust overnight in the fridge.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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